Managing Through a Downturn

Being a manager during an economic downturn can be an unenviable position. After all, you’re required to be a steady hand in the face of challenges such as reduced budgets and cancelled initiatives. In addition, you must keep morale high for a team of creatives who may be worried about the security of their jobs.

Indeed, a downturn can be the ultimate test of your management skills. It’s a tall order, but the following tips can help you rise to the challenge:

1. Lead by Example
Workers take their cues from their managers. If you complain about slashed budgets and unrealistic expectations to your team, they will likely adopt the same negative attitude.

Instead, acknowledge challenges, but approach the situation as a problem that your team can—and will—solve. Designers are accustomed to finding creative solutions to business needs and may welcome this sort of mind-shift.

2. Foster Teamwork

Tough economic times frequently translate into increased competition among those on your team. As employees feel pressure to prove their value to the firm, some less-than-ideal behavior can emerge.

To combat this phenomenon, avoid creating a “lone superstar” mentality caused by rewarding only the most visible contributors. Recognizing group contributions in addition to individual results emphasizes the importance of cooperation.

Also keep an eye out for “unsung heroes”—those creatives who stay late to help others or produce strong work but are reluctant to toot their own horns.

3. Communicate Often and Openly
It’s always good to have an open-door policy, but, during tough times, take it one step farther. Actively talk to your team about the challenges the company is facing. As a manager, you’re the “interpreter” of messages coming from the top.

So if top executives send a mass e-mail regarding the firm’s financial standing, for instance, discuss what the results mean to your department with the group. By being as candid as you can about situations that arise, you’ll also quell rumors among staff members.

Likewise, encourage them to come to you with any questions or concerns—and offer as much information as possible. You likely can’t share everything, but your honesty will help reduce anxiety levels about some of the unknowns.

4. Reward Strong Work
Even if you can’t offer cash bonuses or raises, there are other things you can do to reward a creative’s outstanding performance.

A handwritten thank-you note or recognition at a team meeting can show employees that you appreciate their hard work—and these incentives don’t cost a cent. Also effective are rewards such as a half-day off or a free pass to a movie or museum.

5. Keep Them Engaged
No matter what the shape of the economy, your top performers will be looking to further their careers and build their skill sets. Don’t take them for granted during slow economic times—talented people always have job options.

You may not be able to offer a promotion, but you can keep these individuals challenged with new projects or increased responsibilities.

Overseeing a team through uncertain times may be one of your greatest management challenges, but it comes with some potential rewards. You have an opportunity to inspire a loyal team that’s able to perform through the ups and downs of any economic cycle — resilience that can only be learned through experience and that will serve you and your group well going forward.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative professionals, and HOW’s official career partner.